In The Shadow of the Fortress
by Maria Kana Santos
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In the Shadow of the Fortress
I knew my young friend so well. I had gone before him way back before this year, 546 B.C.
He could have been about twenty years old. He’s but a child full of zeal, always stirred, always set for trouble. I knew him as an unshakable fortress of brass walls, as a city of iron pillars, of unyielding will to oppressing townspeople. He set his face like a flint, unashamed of every word he said. He was the epitome of the character the Lord said of him, and for what He equipped him to do.
I fingered the scroll in my hand, and then carefully placed it in the depths of my tunic. “Your cries and pleadings have fallen on deaf ears, Jeremiah.”
Shaking his head with a dismal groan, “These faithless people...,” Jeremiah yanked a thorny plant trailing under a dark ledge of a rock, “stony wasteland giving no fruit, except thorns and briers.”
He passed his eyes over the dreary undulating mountains and he said to me, “Baruch, the Lord spoke against the nation Israel.” And then eying the thorny plant laid on his hand, “I’ve warned. I’ve pleaded...” With dismal droop of his head, he cried, “but they continue to defy the Lord.”
I felt what my friend was saying and I expressed them plainly, “Death will spread its cruel net on the land. It’s a frightening thought.”
“True, faithful Baruch,” Jeremiah’s usual voice trembled, “unless the people of promise will turn to the Lord, He will not avert His judgment by fire and sword.”
The strength of the nation exhausted all peace and safety they could have had with the Lord. But their continual reproach to the word of God persisted even more in their hearts, they would not delight in Him. They would not seek after God’s counsel for rest in their souls.”
Hopes and dreams vanished to nothingness, unless they return to God.
I shivered at the words of Jeremiah’s pleadings with the people-- words that often threatened him with viscous stoning to death by the people. But would not be silent, “O, people of His promise...can’t you see? Can’t you hear? The shadow of God’s righteous anger will cave you to utter destruction with no hope of escape!”
I shuddered. God visited the condition of the heart of the people. The expected doom would arrive. His judgment would come. The Chaldeans would burn Judah, would devour them by the sword. The people of promise would fall into their hands.
“I fear for the nation of such defiant people. They clench their fists at God!”
“I’ll stand by you, Jeremiah. The Lord is our help.” I assured him, “The Lord is merciful. And as you said, the Lord wants king Jehoiakim, his officers, and the priests to hear His written words.”
“Yes, and as lawyer in the king’s court, perhaps your colleagues will listen. You’ve written every word from God’s mouth.”
I took the scroll from beneath my robes and unrolled it. “The Lord commanded that I must read His words to the people in Jerusalem. Maybe they’ll come to their senses.”
“If this is our only hope, do it.” Jeremiah’s pat on my back was reassuring. “God bless you, my friend.”
The arid and hostile mountain ranges rose before us as we knelt, face on the ground. My friend Jeremiah gave way to fervent agony, lamenting for the people who had forsaken the living God.
And then, Jeremiah stretched up his arms to the mountains, “Awake from your wretchedness, O, Judah, to the fury of the LORD!” And he covered his head with his hands in despair.
On the fourth year of king Jehoiakim, Jeremiah was shut in the king’s prison courts. But the word of the Lord could not be contained within the walls of the dark dungeons. “Baruch, the Lord commanded that the scrolls be read to the kings and princesses, and to the people in the house of the Lord. Go now and take courage, my friend.”
Not one soul responded to the reading of the words I wrote which Jeremiah dictated. King Jehoiakim hated the words of the holy God. He tore the scrolls and fed them to the fire in the hearth.
The written words burned.
“Baruch,” Jeremiah said with lament in his voice, “they’ve rejected God. Surely, they’ll fall into the hands of Babylon, as God had planned it. And just as the Lord had said, ‘They shall fight against me, but they shall not prevail.” The faithfulness of the Lord clung to him even stronger, “Let’s be of good cheer, Baruch, the Lord said He will deliver us through. The Lord will release me out of this dungeon, He will hide us.”
Years in Jeremiah’s life were spent with passion arousing the chill of death in people’s hearts to an all-consuming flame to love God. But their hearts became deadened to Him.
Kings had come and gone. All committed wickedness in the sight of God. Israel and Judah refused to heed the warnings from the Lord through Jeremiah.
My faithful friend, Jeremiah, remained steady. I stayed with him. I continued transcribing prophesies the Lord spoke through him.
In the same year, the priests and the people of Judah gathered and chided, “We will escape to Egypt, or perish in the hands of the Chaldeans!”
“God said we must not go to exile in Egypt, He’ll array Nebuchadnezzar with its ruins!” Jeremiah lamented and warned the people that they would perish in Egypt if they sought allies with them.
They would not listen. The heated argument ebbed and crested Jeremiah with anguish. They fiercely pressed him, persecuted him. What was happening forced the words out of my mouth, even though I knew the uselessness of what I said.
“O, for the Lord’s sake, go to the Chaldeans in Babylon. The Lord will see us through there. He will help us. ” It was no use, our warnings fell on stubborn ears.
“Treason!” The people shouted, and caused a commotion in the land. King Zedekiah had Jeremiah tied and lowered into the mire of a deep pit.
Beyond the stone palisades of the king’s court of prison, where Jeremiah was shut in; beyond the fortified walls were laden with enemies of Israel, the Chaldeans besieged round Jerusalem.
In the king’s palace, in my chambers, I laid the roll of papyrus aside and engaged my pen on the inkstand. “Lord, my friend has met with grief. I, with discouragement. I can’t find rest in my spirit. Jeremiah’s enemies became mine too.”
“Gird up yourself, Baruch. Go up to exile with the Chaldean army to Babylon. I will take care of you both, My servants. I am the Lord your God in whom you trust. I have spoken to your friend, Jeremiah, about my plans for you both. And I heard your afflictions. Keep all my words, continue writing them, speak to every ear of my mercies. I know My plans I have for you.”
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